Once, I was driving from one town to another in the region of Shillong, which is in the northeastern part of India. At that time, Shillong had recently won its independence. The politicians told the people that everyone was now free. Some of the country people felt that they were free to do anything they wanted. As I was driving, I saw a few people sitting right in the middle of the road, playing cards and I stopped the car and walked over to them.
I asked, “What are you doing in the middle of the road?”
“We are now a free people so we can do whatever we want.”
“That’s fine but, in that case, don’t you think that I also have my freedom?”
“Oh yes, you are also a free man!”
“Okay, then I would like to drive over you.”
So, I got into the car and began slowly driving. As the car got near to them, they all got up and left. That is how we misunderstand the idea of liberty or freedom. In our own bodies, we have different limbs and organs. If all of a sudden your nose wants the freedom of eating something and if you put some of your food into your nose because it says, “I have the freedom to eat,” you will suffocate to death. If your legs say, “I must have the freedom to sit on your head” and the head should try to walk, there will be trouble! If the heart takes a little freedom to stop working for a while, what will happen? So, all our organs must work in a cooperative way. They have their freedom, but still they should not interfere with the other organs. They should do their job well and that is the real freedom. There must be discipline with freedom. If the four wheels of your car want freedom, and each one starts going in different directions, can you drive safely on the road? The wheels of the car should be controlled by the steering wheel. Control is a discipline that exists so that everything can go smoothly, and that is also part of Yoga. We are asked to do our job well, without interfering with others. We recognize a common purpose and then all goes well.
The aim of life, and of Yoga, is to find health, happiness, and usefulness. We should not just live for ourselves alone, but we also should be useful to other people. We can see this in all of nature—everything exists to serve us. For example, this bunch of flowers on the table is serving us, in its own way. The purpose of the plant is to produce flowers and the flowers give us fragrance and beauty. So in that way, they are serving everybody. An apple tree is serving us by giving its fruit. Have you ever seen an apple tree eating its own fruit? Having grown and produced so many hundreds of fruits, it gives them all and in that way it is useful to everybody. When you light a candle as it melts it gives us light. While giving light it dies little by little. So the purpose of the candle is to serve us by giving light. Likewise, if you have the proper vision, you can see that everything in the world is serving others; they do not live just for themselves. Human beings also should learn to live like that.
But if we want to serve others we should keep ourselves in good physical and mental condition so that we can serve everybody well. If our bodies fall sick, or our minds fall sick, we will probably be a nuisance to others, rather than useful to them. The purpose of Yoga is to keep you physically and mentally fit so that you can fulfil the mission of your life , which is to serve; that is the law of nature. This is the common message behind all faiths and religions—to dedicate our lives for the service of others. And, you cannot dedicate your life to others if you lead a selfish life. That means you have to become selfless.
Renouncing selfishness and living a dedicated life are the same thing. And that is also what is meant by the word nirvana in Buddhism. In nirvana, you renounce your selfishness; your mind becomes clean and calm. There are several Yoga practices that have this as the goal. These practices aim to take care of our physical, mental, intellectual, social, and spiritual aspects of our lives. Every individual is a combination of them all. The combination of the different practices will take care of your total being. We call that Integral Yoga.
Sometimes people only practice Yoga asanas or postures. Through Hatha Yoga, we clean the physical body and vital body. The physical postures are very good for health but it is also important to include other Yoga practices as well. Asanas plus pranayama (the yogic breathing techniques) take care of the body by relieving tension, by eliminating the toxins in the body, and making the body more supple. The breathing techniques clean the lungs and the extra oxygen that you breathe in burns out all the toxins in the body. It also puts in more vitality and makes you more immune to many illnesses and diseases so you become healthier. Another important benefit of yogic breathing is to keep your mind calm and serene, because when the mind is agitated the breath also gets agitated, and vice-versa. If the breath gets agitated, the mind will get agitated.
So, whenever you are disturbed mentally, if you could take a few minutes to have a few deep breaths, you will very soon find that your mind has become calm. That is the reason why when you practice some deeper practices like meditation, it is always recommended that you do a little simple deep breathing before you do your meditation. It makes the mind fit to meditate and, in the process of meditation, your mind becomes one-pointed. The mind becomes strong and you can achieve success in whatever you do in life. If you are a student with a one-pointed mind, you can learn your lessons more quickly. If you are a teacher you can teach well. If you are a businessperson you can do better business. Whether you are a lawyer, an engineer, or a doctor, you need a very well-focused, strong mind. Another very important benefit of Yoga is that you learn to follow certain ethical practices such as truthfulness, non-injury, and non-greed. These virtues also help to keep the mind clean and calm because the body and mind become impure or restless due to wrong thinking.
In Integral Yoga, we combine all the various practices of Yoga and one of those practices is the chanting of OM. When you repeat the sacred sound OM, close your eyes and listen to the sound. The repetition is an exercise with sound, and at the same time, it is a form of meditation because it calms the mind quickly. It relaxes your mind and body because OM is the basic cosmic sound. Sit quietly, and when you repeat, concentrate on the sound and its vibration. You can also repeat it out loud. The “O” should start at the navel pit, slowly come up, and when you close the mouth to say the “mmmm,” (elongated “m” of the OM) feel the vibration at the crown of the head. In the name of Yoga, we have many practices and each one takes care of a different aspect of the individual.
With chanting, you use certain holy names or mantras and the mantras produce a beautiful healing, soothing vibration. They have great power to clean your system. The scientists have invented machines that use sound vibrations to clean objects. Many of you know that when you give your jewelry to be cleaned, they use certain machines that clean with sound vibration. There are even certain medical operations that are performed with sound vibration. In the Yoga philosophy, we also use sound vibrations to clean the body and mind. In the Bible, it is said that in the very beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God; the Word was God. The real meaning of “the Word” is sound. God first manifested as sound. By producing certain sounds in our system, we can communicate with the cosmic sound. That means we will be able to have communion with the Divine. In the Indian language of Sanskrit, the word for communion is Yoga. So, through Yoga, you not only have communion with the Divine, but you also learn to have communion with your fellow human beings.